Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
Hard to say when I officially crossed over from hobby to profession, but when I was 16 I won the Chicago Toy and Game Fair Young Inventor’s Challenge in 2010. That win sparked a whole slew of networking opportunities as well as personal growth. Following that, I won the year after with a game called Squashed that was picked up by PlaSmart, launching my own personal journey into the industry as an inventor. After receiving the honor of being named Young Inventor of the Year in 2013 at the TAGIEs, I joined Spin Master as a Games Designer in the summer of 2015 and have been there since. I got into the industry because I want to make the world a more fun place, and games are an amazing way to do it! They’re immersive, have great opportunities for learning, and provide a safe and non-embarrassing way to fail and improve.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
How can I be worried about play? The only thing I’m worried about is that fun will get lost in the name of profit. But at the end of the day, fun is what sells, and hopefully in the long run that will be the thing that makes the most profit, so it’s really a non-issue. The biggest trend I see right now is a reflection of societal entertainment as a whole. Entertainment is becoming more immersive, more experiential, and highly social with an added incentive to record and document what is going on either temporarily or permanently to create memories and shared experiences. Whether this is with binge watching TV shows, doing the mannequin challenge, playing in VR, or working out with Nike+, entertainment is becoming more of a full experience worth sharing. I see this directly applying to the toy and game industry as well.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
Start young! The younger you are, the more advice will be willingly given to you. We all want you to succeed because we remember where we were back then! Next, try to convey the most fun parts of your toy or game within 30 seconds, it will help the person you are presenting to remain interested! Finally, get the person you are presenting to involved in some way. Nothing leaves an impression like the physical act of doing something, and if your toy or game is fun, this is a home run.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
I gotta be honest, I really loved the Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon video game series. I spent so many hours playing them, and then took inspiration from them to create a whole line of my own games, both physical and digital. I was a fan of Stratego and other strategy games as well as random skill based games such as Minute to Win It challenges. Are markers and paint considered toys? How about Rube Goldbergs? LEGO definitely played a big part in my childhood as well, the patterns to build mixed with the pure creation after led me to think about what could be rather than just ‘what is’.
What does your typical day look like?
Normally I’m tasked with designing new concepts and innovating old ones at Spin Master. Sometimes I’ll apply the business mindset I gained at USC to identify possible new strategies. I can’t talk specifics, but I have fun at my job at Spin Master every single day. It’s like living a dream. Post work, I don’t slow down. I’m juggling several side projects with different teams. Currently I live with a professional entrepreneurship fraternity (14 people in one physical ho
use), so the global diversity and activities there is definitely anything but routine. I’m constantly bombarded with a variety of questions, influential people, different industries like aerospace, luxury car accessories, sunglasses, EDM music, and much much more. That type of environment is pretty impactful. We’ve all got different things going on in life and it’s quite a treat to have so many outlets and perspectives to solve problems and grow as humans so close to home. Err. At home.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?
Luckily, I’ve never had a bad job. I’ve narrowly avoided a few though. Fortunately, I like a wide variety of things, so I’m pretty flexible with what I consider to be a ‘bad job’. I believe every job and every experience has something that I can learn from. If that previous statement is true, then every job has an opportunity cost as compared to other jobs. I’d like to optimize my time as much as possible by picking the things I want to learn before looking for a job. If I don’t have the skills necessary for a potential job, I’ll try to find someone in that position, learn from them as much as possible, and train myself on the side while keeping that person informed about what I’m doing. When enough people know about what you’re doing, you’ve created a brand of yourself, and opportunities will start to appear.
What inspires you?
The power of fun. When people are having fun, positivity is in the air and people are more likely to see opportunities around them. It may be through silly brainstorming, hanging out with friends, or playing with pets. When people are focused on negative emotions, they see walls and barriers and often can result in vicious cycles of limiting thoughts and self-doubt. When you are having fun, you can create goals, measure your progress, celebrate little wins (like eating healthy for lunch), and connect to your inner drive and motivation. Find out why you want to do something, and connect to it emotionally to create real change. Mine is through games and spreading fun because I believe in its power.
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
Chicago is an amazing city with a small town feel. The environment definitely played a part, but what I think is more important is who I grew up with. My family was (and is) absolutely amazing and is definitely the reason I am who I am. My mom is incredibly creative and understanding. She’s focused on parent child interaction, normally with young children on the autism spectrum. Her ability to connect and create relationships gave me a base of love that is unquestionable. My dad is grounded and logical which provided an irreplaceable alternate mindset that I learned while I was young. The combination of these two different yet highly synergetic styles guided me through childhood, encouraging me to take calculated risks, invent things that people can understand and find use for, and care for a large variety of people through understanding different cultures and life journeys. I can’t thank them enough; it’s been the greatest gift I could have ever received. Side note: My mom writes a blog now! Check out totallypresentcommunication.com for parenting insights that you’ve never considered before.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
I’ve made TONS of mistakes in my life; it’s hard to pick just one because of how much experience I’ve gained from them. The most impactful one for me left a physical scar was well as a concrete value. When I had just finished Freshman year, I got the opportunity of a lifetime- I was hired to build, paint, and test challenges on my favorite TV show, Survivor. It was a dream job and I was on cloud 9. Everything was going great and seemed to be set in stone. And then I hit a stone, hard, after slipping near a pool (which I wouldn’t have slipped near if I took the safe way instead of hopping around the infinity fountain side). In the resulting stitches near my right eye and the highly possible chance that I would have been sent home, I cemented in my mind that everything can change in an instant- positive and negative- and to cherish and live to the fullest every single moment of life. I’m incredibly lucky to have my family, a working brain, good health, and opportunities abound. In this way, I’ll always remember to be gracious and to give back as much as possible, not because I should, but because I can.
What do you read every day, and why?
I read non-fiction as of recently. I choose what to read based on my goals at the time. As a new college graduate, I am transitioning into the period of life known by our generation as ‘adulting’. Granted, I don’t know very much about this, so I’ve tried to identify the key skills that I’ll need to succeed. I’ve picked up books on long term health and wellness, cybersecurity, taxes, relationship psychology, altruism, business, cognitive behavioral therapy, gamification in business contexts and more. Not your typical reading list, but it suits me. I read to learn from experts, who have spent their whole life learning something, hoping to benefit humanity with their knowledge. I try to take as much wisdom as possible from these amazing people. On the flip-side to books, documentaries can convey some amazing learnings. They create an emotional connection much more than books in my mind, as they can connect imagery, music, and emotion to the story being told. I watch programs on Earth, space, global change, political differences, and human change. I highly recommend checking out Tony Robbins “I Am Not Your Guru” to see what is possible in just a week with the right mindset. I also recommend checking out a short TED talk by Simon Sinek “How great leaders inspire action”. This 18 minute talk shaped my life in more ways than one.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
Uber. Hands down. Now I don’t need to buy a car! I can travel anywhere, any time, for a reasonable price, within 5 minutes. Over the long term, Uber is definitely saving me money, legal risk, time wasted in traffic unable to do work, and the annoyance of someone cutting in front of me. Taxis don’t even come close.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
I talk to people! Often I’ll start with my parents, even with problems that contain information that took me a year to understand. It’s not necessarily the answer that I’m looking for, rather a new perspective and a new way to look at something that will spark progress. Other times I’ll take a break and play video games or have dinner with friends. It’s amazing what your senses will pick up when your brain knows you’re looking for something. It’s even more amazing how much talking about your blocks can help- humans are a wealth of information and perspective, and every one’s is different.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I laugh out loud probably every hour, if not more. The most recent one was sparked by my favorite comedian, Louie CK. His humor is spot on. I’m also a huge fan of comedy for social commentary, specifically South Park.